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Best Practices: 8 Ways to Improve Your Email Negotiations

Posted by chamberadmin on June 24, 2014

By: Charlotte Westerhaus-Renfrow
Senior Lecturer of Management at the Kelley School of Business

We have a love-hate relationship with email. We love to communicate with a lot people instantly, and share information quickly and efficiently. But, we hate spam and phishing.

We also have a love-hate relationship with email negotiations. We love eliminating time-consuming travel to participate in face-to-face meetings. But, studies show that email negotiations are more likely to end at an impasse, with only 50% resulting in agreement. Nobody loves a 50% success rate.

Email is here to stay as the preferred business communication tool. Here are eight ways to improve your email negotiating skills:

  • Meet eyeball to eyeball.
    A primary reason email negotiations fail is due to the use of blunt messages that are either misunderstood or cause offense. More than 90% of human communication is non-verbal, meaning tone of voice and facial expressions. All of that non-verbal communication is missing in an email. No matter what the other side says, whenever possible use the phone or face to-face meetings to establish rapport and manage difficult conversations.
  • Build rapport.
    Take the time to engage in light cyberspace conversation. When you connect with people personally, they are more likely to focus on interests, and less likely to focus on positions and demands. Even minimal socially-oriented dialogue, such as including references to the weather, sports, and travel can build trust and improve mutual impressions.
  • Carefully select subject lines.
    The subject line is the front porch to your email. Use the subject field intentionally to make a first impression and provide a frame through which the email will be read.
  • Ask more questions than not.
    There is a tendency to limit questions over email. Don’t fall into this trap. Studies reveal there is a greater tendency to lie, exaggerate, bluff, or intimidate with email. Thus, it is vital that you ask more questions, not less.
  • Keep it positive.
    You receive an email and something in it rubs you the wrong way. Big time. While “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” your negative or angry reply email may not stay in the recipient’s email account – it can go anywhere and everywhere. The shelf-life of a bad email is eternal. When you encounter rudeness (or worse) take a deep breath, let some time pass, and do not respond in kind.
  • Slow your roll.
    Read a received message twice instead of banging out a reply based on your first reaction – and then reread your response before clicking send. One misspelled or missing word can change everything. Haste makes mistakes.
  • Keep it private.
    Be cautious of who receives your email, particularly before trust is established. Consider each address field carefully. To whom should a message be sent? Should anyone appear in the “cc” field? Do you want anyone invisibly lurking on the conversation from the “bcc” field? Another privacy best practice: Do not write anything in an email that you would not want shown on the news.
  • Stay focused.
    One benefit of email negotiating is that you can virtually roll out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, head to your cell phone or laptop computer and … wallah, you’re negotiating! Keep in mind, however, that the greater the importance of the negotiation to you, the more it pays to concentrate on it. Read and write messages in an environment that allows you to concentrate. Close your Internet web browser while reading and writing email.

Charlotte Westerhaus-Renfrow is President and Principal Consultant, ChangePro Consulting. She is also a Senior Lecturer of Management at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. Formerly, she was Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at the NCAA. Charlotte has over 20 years of experience in designing, implementing, and organizational transformation interventions with diversity and inclusion, civil rights and cultural awareness, workplace culture, and individual, team and organizational motivation and performance.